Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

A Wise and Witty Westminster Wife

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

A Wise and Witty Westminster Wife

Article excerpt

Byline: By David Whetstone

Nobody understands the pressures on a top politician's spouse better than Edna Healey who talked to David Whetstone about her lively memoirs.

Politicians' memoirs can be unappetising and unreliable affairs, either turgid or self-regarding. Those close to politicians, who have no political reputation to polish for posterity, often produce much more sparkling stuff.

This is certainly the case in Edna Healey's new book, Part of the Pattern: Memoirs of a Wife at Westminster.

At this point I had better say that Denis Healey's 1989 autobiography, The Time Of My Life, is probably neither turgid nor self-regarding.

The one-time Commons bruiser was anything but dull and, according to his wife, is devoid of vanity.

One of many amusing anecdotes recalls an extraordinary visit to China as Shadow Chancellor in 1972 when he "blasted" a class of bemused Peking University students with a rendition of an old Yorkshire song: "We're all down in t'cellaroyle (cellar) wi' muck slats at t'winders..."

She remembers her horror and her attempt to explain to the students that it was a song of the Yorkshire proletariat - "but I think they were too shattered to comprehend and too polite to comment," she writes.

Edna Healey has written several biographies, including one that rescues Charles Darwin's wife, Emma, from obscurity. But her own story surely provided her best material.

At the age of 87 she is still wise and witty, and gratified at the response to a book which has been nearly three years in the writing. She said yesterday: "If someone says, `You made me laugh, you made me cry, you told me something I didn't know...' what more could an old lady want?"

Her publisher, Headline, had commissioned the Emma Darwin book and the autobiography. For the latter she was aided not only by her considerable memory but by her husband's autobiography and diaries.

Lady Healey, as she now is, was born Edna Edmunds in 1918, one of five children. She describes a happy childhood in the market town of Coleford, on the edge of "the ancient and magical Forest of Dean", although it wasn't idyllic. Her beloved father, a crane driver in a stone quarry, was made redundant ( making her feel ashamed ( and died at the age of 52.

Sunday School augmented her education and she won scholarships to a local grammar school and then to Oxford University. She was encouraged to go for Oxford ( the first in her family to get to university ( by an enlightened teacher, although someone else warned her that it was "for aristocrats and public-school boys".

She paints a fascinating portrait of Oxford in the 1930s and remembers seeing the Jarrow marchers parading through the city. Yesterday she said: "Watching them go by with their macs and their hats on ( everyone wore hats in those days ( I suddenly recognised some students from very well-heeled homes holding placards saying, `We want work'. …

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